Riders of Justice (2020)
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Screenwriters: Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, Andrea Heick Gadesberg, Nicolas Bro
“Nothing is for certain,” says an old man to his granddaughter, convinced that her wish for a new bicycle will come true. Little does she know just how right he is as her simple wish will spark a series of increasingly ludicrous coincidences that will form most of the plot of Riders of Justice, the latest black comedy from Danish writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen.
Otto and Lennart (Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Lars Brygmann) are two slightly hapless scientists working on an algorithm that can predict the chaotic nature of cause and effect. Every moment, Otto explains, was caused by a near infinite number of other moments, which in turn have their own infinite causes and so on. It’s a map of the universe that would be impossible for a human brain to process, which is why, so far, he and Lennart have only been able to successfully predict that rich people buy expensive things and poor people buy cheap things. Unceremoniously fired for providing this useless piece of information, Otto takes an earlier train home. There, he meets Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and offers his seat to her mother. A mere second after they swap, the entire right-hand side of the train (including Mathilde’s mother) explodes in an apparent freak accident. Otto, however, is not convinced that it is an accident. Determined he has found a pattern, and the people responsible, he and Lennart connect with the grim and grieving Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), father of Mathilde, and hatch a plan for revenge.
As convoluted and disparate as these story elements are, Jensen’s script is well judged. All the characters are well developed and each have very believable reasons for behaving as they do. So much so, that we start to imagine we can see this chaotic pattern that should otherwise be impossible to process.
The nature of coincidence and interconnection has been covered plenty of times already, perhaps most famously in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, while Dan Fogelman has written at least two films and one TV show about it. Riders of Justice uses the idea to first develop its sense of humour and then to reveal its surprisingly poignant themes.
Markus is a highly skilled soldier and a virtual powder keg of rage and supressed emotion, but he finds himself stuck with a random group of whining, bickering outcasts. Watching him trying to keep a level head while he has to deal with a French-horn playing hacker, Mathilde’s overly familiar and irritatingly socially-conscious boyfriend, or a shy Ukrainian prostitute pretending to be his daughter’s au pair, leads to some screamingly hilarious scenes, each made all the better that they’re not played for laughs. Though each of these people have their own pig-headed sense of morality, their goal is united, but how to achieve it is constantly up for debate. The various definitions of justice collide together until the previously simple definitions of right and wrong become more muddied and confused. Initially no one wants to back down from their opinion, but eventually the chaotic nature of their clashing egos brings all of them to a new perspective.
Whilst Mikkelsen’s talent has never been in question, it’s undeniable that he’s on a roll at the moment. After his excellent performance in Druk (Another Round) last year, he turns in one of his funniest roles (despite never once cracking a joke) to date. As Markus, Mikkelsen remains stoically tight-lipped but manages to say more with every exasperated pinch of the nose or passive-aggressive drag on a cigarette while his comrades squabble ceaselessly. Newcomer Gadeberg is also a highlight, managing to hold her own with Mikkelsen, and whose well-intentioned naivety is funny and infuriating in equal measure. Most of the supporting cast are made up of Jensen regulars and it’s a testament to their performances that a film which juggles so many ideas makes complete sense and never slips into ridiculousness.
It is this key element which makes the film as successful as it is. Despite dealing with the very nature of chaos, the film remains laser-focused on what it’s trying to say. Often when films discuss coincidence and fate, they raise questions which have no answers and end ambiguously, but Riders of Justice knows from the beginning that finding an answer to everything is impossible; that singular people with singular minds will only ever end up getting lost. While there may be no rhyme or reason to their coming together, you can leave satisfied knowing that each of the Riders of Justice have been improved by finding each other. It may be the only thing that is certain in this world.
Written by Jack Cameron
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